Fantasy managers are masochists – and here’s why that’s a good thing |

Former Fantasy Premier League (FPL) champion Simon March argues that feeling a bit of pain may not be a bad thing in our quest for a lofty overall rank.

Few would be surprised were they to discover that Fantasy Premier League is a game that attracts a community more prone than normal to masochism. No many FPL managers would last very long if they didn’t have at least an ambivalent relationship with pain and suffering. However, this tendency is not limited to FPL managers and is, in fact, present in all of us to some extent. It can also play a key role in determining which of us experiences success in life, and which of us don’t.

The significance of this propensity towards inviting pain has been seen to vary from person to person and, in the context of FPL, it may not only help explain some of the differences in playing style and risk preferences from manager to manager but, also, why we sometimes self-sabotage in our FPL decision-making. These are some questions this article will consider.

Hedonic Reversal

‘Hedonic Reversal’ is the state in which we, as humans, derive pleasure in things that cause us pain or discomfort. All of us experience this to an extent, it’s a big part of why we enjoy things like rollercoasters, horror movies or spicy food.

Hedonic reversal manifests itself biologically via the release of endorphins into the bloodstream as a response to us experiencing pain. Endorphins are, among other things, the body’s naturally occurring anaesthetic and they function in a similar fashion to opioids, both in their ability to numb pain and their tendency to create a sense of euphoria in those experiencing their release.

Runners and gym-goers might recognise this effect as the ‘runner’s high’ or a ‘pump’ respectively, and it is essentially the same mechanism. The evolutionary purpose for hedonic reversal is not entirely clear, some believe it occurs as a means of balancing out our response to emotional or physical pain, others believe it exists to reward and incentivise risk-taking, something which has helped us, overall, to advance as a species. The bottom line, however, is that a period of physical or emotional pain is likely to trigger a release of happy hormones to help cheer you up, basically.

Mavericks and Dullards

learning-from-the-great-and-the-good-19-20-the-final 3

FPL managers are known to differ greatly in their approaches to taking risks. We often colloquially refer to risk-takers as ‘Mavericks’ and risk-averse managers as ‘Dullards’. While it is true that risk preferences are the result of many factors, hedonic reversal could be a significant element of the more maverick playing style.

Everybody knows how good a feeling it is to take a risk and for it to pay off. We also know how bad it feels to take a risk and for it to backfire. But those who have experienced such backfires a few times might come to learn that, when things go wrong, it might not feel as bad as you expect. In fact, the worse it gets, the better it is likely to feel on a body chemistry level.

With this in mind, it’s not unreasonable to believe that some managers might come to fear failure less than others do. They might even get to a point, however subconsciously, where they even seek it. Win or lose, they eventually get the same positive feeling physically, so why not take risks? 

This disposition towards seeking pain could explain a lot (Spurs fans, for example) but the key insight from an FPL perspective might be that, if these quasi-masochistic tendencies manifest themselves more significantly in some people than others, they may have also a dramatic effect on the way those individuals play FPL. The natural question, therefore, is whether this is a good or a bad thing.

While it’s true that more risk does not necessarily equal more points in FPL (indeed, it could easily equal the opposite) you cannot get a really, really good rank without taking at least some chances. That could mean anything from some risky transfers to some maverick captaincy decisions. How many risks are sensible to take will always be something context-dependent, but it stands to reason that a manager who is unafraid to take an educated punt possesses a potentially valuable characteristic if they are looking for an elite-level rank or if they dream of winning FPL. As the aphorism goes; you may find plenty of risk-averse millionaires but you will find very few risk-averse billionaires. 

Of course, you will also find plenty of risk-taking people who are flat-broke so moderation is key. Allowing your FPL decisions to be driven by a subconscious desire to feel pain is likely to leave your arrows as red as that room in Fifty Shades of Grey. It’s good to take some risks but they have to be considered ones.

However, if you are a manager who is very risk-averse, perhaps to the point of detriment, experiencing a bit of the pain of failure might actually be good for you. In fact, it may be exactly what you need to remove the fear of taking risks and condition your subconscious to accept them more easily. As many have observed, our best FPL seasons seem to disproportionately follow our worst ones and so perhaps ‘learning to take a fall’ represents a key rite of passage in getting us there.

Why does good FPL form end and what can we do about it?

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